Cubs History: A look back at Lindy McDaniel’s run as Chicago’s closer

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The resurgence of Craig Kimbrel is a good sign for Chicago Cubs fans. The modern game of professional baseball demands an effective ‘closer’ for a team to be successful.

Chicago has been fortunate enough to have had some outstanding closers in their longstanding history.  Let’s hope Kimbrel’s early successes are just an indication of things to come.

A short history lesson on the closer

Although pitchers being used to close games goes way back, saves were not an official statistic until 1969. According to Peter Morris’ ‘A Game of Inches: The Game on the Field,’ “In 1905, manager John McGraw used Claude Elliot eight of his ten appearances as a reliever. He was retroactively credited with six saves, a record for that year.”

Prior to the 1990s pitchers called upon to complete games where the team was ahead were referred to as short relievers, ‘firemen’ or stoppers, but by the early 1990s they adopted the moniker we use today: the closer.

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Cubs closers of the past

Four of the closers in the Hall of Fame have pitched for the ‘Lovable Losers’: Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage and Dennis Eckersley, although Eckersley was a starter for Chicago and not used as a closer until Tony LaRussa designated him as his ninth inning man.

Chicago has had a plethora of closers in their storied history.

My first memory of a Cubs closer begins with Lindy McDaniel. He came to the Cubs from St. Louis where he had recorded 66 saves in the previous four years. Though he only spent three years with the Cubs, McDaniel was 13-7 for the North Siders in 1963 with a league-high 48 games finished and 22 saves, also a league best. He was named Reliever of The Year for that performance.

In 1964 he increased his appearances from 57 to 63, but his games finished mark went down to 40 with 16 saves. By 1965 McDaniel appeared in 71 games, but only finished 26 of them with a pair saves. In Lindy’s defense, over that same period the team steadily decreased in win totals from 82-80 in 1963, to 76-86 in 1964, and only 72-90 in the1965 campaign.

Cubs: Lindy McDaniel was not done yet

Lindy McDaniel was traded to the Giants in 1966. Four years later, in 1970, he went on to record 29 saves for the New York Yankees. For the twelve years prior to McDaniel’s arrival, no Chicago pitcher had recorded more than 14 saves in a season.

Next. Three unexpected Cubs who could be traded this season. dark

I moved from Illinois in 1964 and lost my opportunity to see the team regularly for over twenty years. For me, Lindy McDaniel as he was in ’63 and ’64, will always be the first Cubs closer.